We report here the clinical, genetic and molecular characterization of three Han Chinese pedigrees with maternally transmitted aminoglycoside-induced and nonsyndromic bilateral hearing loss. Clinical evaluation revealed the wide range of severity, age-at-onset and audiometric configuration of hearing impairment in matrilineal relatives in these families. The penetrances of hearing loss in these pedigrees were 28%, 20%, and 15%, with an average of 21%, when aminoglycoside-induced deafness was included. When the effect of aminoglycosides was excluded, the penetrances of hearing loss in these seven pedigrees were 21%, 13% and 8%, with an average of 14%. Sequence analysis of the complete mitochondrial genomes in these pedigrees showed the presence of the deafness-associated 12S rRNA C1494T mutation, in addition to distinct sets of mtDNA polymorphism belonging to Eastern Asian haplogroups F1a1, F1a1 and D5a2, respectively. This suggested that the C1494T mutation occurred sporadically and multiplied through evolution of the mtDNA. The absence of functionally significant mutations in tRNA and rRNAs or secondary LHON mutations in their mtDNA suggests that these mtDNA haplogroup-specific variants may not play an important role in the phenotypic expression of the C1494T mutation in those Chinese families. In addition, the lack of significant mutation in the GJB2 gene ruled out the possible involvement of GJB2 in the phenotypic expression of the C1494T mutation in those affected subjects. However, aminoglycosides and other nuclear modifier genes play a modifying role in the phenotypic manifestation of the C1494T mutation in these Chinese families.